A Family get together at Box Hill

Box Hill - tea 2

This past weekend was one of the hubster’s work weekends. I often take the boys over to my parents house at times like this, but they are currently holidaying in Sicily (lucky things!). Fortuitously, we had been invited down to Salisbury to stay the weekend with my sister-in-law and her two boys, where they have just moved into their new house after a five year stint in Germany. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances this plan had to be postponed. On the up side this left us free to arrange a get together with my sister, brother in law and nieces for a lunch date on Sunday.

We hadn’t really had any plan until the night before when we suddenly realised that we hadn’t really got any idea about what we wanted to do. It is an hour’s drive between our homes so we thought it might be nice to find something to do which is kind of half way between. After much umming and erring, mulling the pros and cons of RHS Wisley, Painshill Park or, our initial desire – ‘a castle!’ (looking at Hever in Kent, the Boleyn family seat – simply too far for us), we settled upon Box Hill near Dorking, National Trust owned land with plenty of walks, trails, nearby cafes and pubs. As my first thought had been to do something outdoorsy which would give us the chance to appreciate the beauty of Autumn, this was a grand idea and the weather was set to be dry (if not sunny).

We opted to do an early lunch for the sake of the boys who get hungry early (!) which ruled out the Smith and Western restaurant nearby which doesn’t open until 12. We ended up at the Ryka’s cafe which is apparently one of the biggest biker’s destinations in England (!!). It is essentially a greasy spoon caff where your main option is burgers, burgers or more burgers (or, in the case of the kids, chicken nuggets!). We appeared to be the only people in there who weren’t dressed from head to foot in leathers!

Next we hopped back in our cars and drove up the zig zag road which formed part of  the London-Surrey Olympic Cycle circuit (and there are still plenty of Tour de France style scribblings on the road!). It took an age to drive up as the road was littered with cyclists funnily enough, causing my youngest niece to comment that she had a problem with Lycra (leather is OK apparently).

There is a lovely ‘Natural Play Trail’ up there so, wellies donned, we set off to discover: Slippy logs:

Box Hill - slippy logs

Climbing branches:

Box Hill - log climb

Stump sculptures:

Box Hill - stumps


Box Hill - Dens

A portal through a tree to another world*

Tree portal

And some breathtaking views:

Box Hill - Views 2

Not to mention many, many, many muddy puddles (which I appear to have omitted from the camera roll – probably due to a sudden fear that my children would re-play that scene from the Vicar of Dibley where she merrily skips into a puddle which turns out to be waist deep!) Before heading to the cafe for hot chocolate, babyccino, ice cream, cake, flapjacks and coffee (Not all for me I hasten to add 🙂 ). It was here that EJ started singing Happy Birthday much to my bemusement until I realised he’d clocked the NT bunting!

All in all a lovely little outing.

*The other side of the tree.

Linking up to What’s the Story over at Podcast Dove.

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The Black and White Photography Project: Gruffalo

Gruffal - silent movie

If you go down to the woods today… etc. I like the way black and white makes this shot look like a still from a silent movie. It was taken last weekend on a little family outing to Alice Holt Forest.

Linking up to The Black and White Photography Project over at Podcast The Doves.

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A family trip to the New Forest

Last weekend it was my mother-in-law’s birthday. There are certain places on the South coast that have special memories and connotations for the hubster’s famiRoad trip with the boys!ly and Barton on Sea down on the other side of the New Forest is one of them, so it was decided that it would be a lovely idea to have a little day trip down there on Sunday, stopping for a pub lunch along the way.

After I’d done a few early hours of overtime at work we all piled into the car and set off. It was over an hours journey so we swung by the McD drive thru for a creamy Mocha to see us through!

The pub we visited is called The Rising Sun in Bashley. It has a great children’s play area which is always advisable, I find, when out for a meal with young children as they have zero patience whilst waiting for food and a tendency to run around amongst the tables amusing annoying other diners!

Rising Sun play area

We met up with my sister in law and nephews, T & O. O is just three months older than EJ and they look a bit like two peas in a pod and get on really well too which is lovely. T is ten and as JJ is five they all just mix along nicely with the older siblings helping the younger ones out when they get into any difficulties. JJ did get into a little slappy match with another boy about the same age but by the time we left JJ told me that this little boy was his best friend! Funny how they blow hot and cold.

After lunch we decided to skip dessert and instead headed back onto the road to New Milton and on to Barton on Sea where our first stop was the Beachcomber Cafe where they do a range of different ice creams. The toddlers just wanted to run around maniacally at this point – spot the similarity:

We took a little stroll down to the coast path with my mother in law’s little Yorkie, Chester afterwards:

JJ & Chester at Barton

I was amused to note the impressive warning sign for all the many and varied dangers to be found in this particular spot:

dangers of barton

This included the danger of being accidentally lumped by a low-flying hand-glider or taken out by a wayward wind-surfer! I;m sure the little person depicted is possibly the most unlucky stick figure in the world!

Despite the inherent dangers (!) it is a lovely little place for a day out – we’ve flown a kite down here before and this was the first place that JJ ever saw the sea (at four months!).

The best sign that it had been a successful day was this:

sleeping EJ

And after taking this, I soon joined him in the land of Nod!

Linking up to Country Kids over at Coombe Mill.

Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


An afternoon at Trilakes


Firstly please excuse my stolen photos here – yet again I turned my camera on to find it out of charge *sigh*. Such a shame as there were some wonderful photo opportunities!

Trilakes (or ‘Jake’s at Trilakes’) is a venue in the Blackwater Valley close to the borders of the tri- county zone between Berkshire, Surrey and Hampshire. There are a number of lakes near Yateley and Sandhurst and amongst these lakes is this play zone which consists of an indoor soft play and an outdoor space around and amongst the lakes with play equipment, farm animals and birds which you can feed.

I’d been stuck indoors all morning and going slightly stir crazy so I suggested this little outing to the hubster as we’d never been before despite having heard about it from a couple of friends over the years. It’s only about a 15-20 minute drive from us and I knew the hubster wouldn’t be up for indoor soft play so it was always our intention to stay outside (fortunately, there was enough sunshine for that to be an option!).

When we arrived we discovered that what I’d described as ‘a nominal fee’ for the outdoor bit was actually £14 for the four of us which would have been ok if the play equipment had been a bit more up to date and the facilities a bit nicer although having said that there were elements that the children really enjoyed and the luxury as an adult is in the beautiful setting which you don’t get in your average playground.

JJ’s favourite bits were the ‘animal passports’ they give you on entry which have boxes for pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens and ponies and you have to search out each animal and use the stamps provided to fill your card. It took us ages to find the ponies & rabbits!

There were also a couple of activities – a (very small) bouncy castle and a little ‘pan for gold’ area – which had additional charges which I thought was a bit cynical on the part of the business given that they charged a fair amount for entry already.

At its worst the place feels tired and a little run down – even the poor peacock looked like someone had attempted to rip out it’s tail feathers – but at it’s best it has wonderful views out across some very pretty waterways – vibrant pink water lillies drifting on twinkling surfaces with koi carp slipping in and out of sight, and a backdrop of tall and varied trees giving you the sense of being somewhere a little bit special and magical.

Waterlillies at Trilakes

One word of warning though – lots of easily accessible bodies of water and toddlers don’t always mix! This is not somewhere where you could let your guard down for a second – I recommend a second pair of eyes (preferably in the back of your head!).

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The Black and White Photography Project: the Keep

Arundel Keep

I took this picture last Tuesday when the hubster and I visited Arundel castle. This is a view across the medieval Keep and I love the moodiness with the clouds. I have added  a Daguerrotype filter which just seemed to make everything more dramatic…

Linking up to Charly’s B&W Photography Project over at Podcast Dove.

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Me and…London

London skyline 2

I grew up in South West London. I think of myself as a Londoner of sorts, but I know that London is a series of villages just sewn together essentially and as such I am still a tourist in many parts of the capital. When I was in my 20s and visited central London with a group of American girls who I’d become friends with at University (in Brighton) I was, embarrassingly, a bit useless as a tour guide and one of the Americans was far more savvy about where we were at any given time.

But I know the parts I know well – I studied at (what was) the London College of Printing in South London at 18 and I did my Masters at City University in Islington, North London, some years later. I have worked at Shell Centre on the South Bank (linked via walkway to Waterloo station) and the Royal Chartered Institute of Surveyors in Parliament Square (my most vivid memory of which was peeking out the window watching Chris Eubank drive his monster truck round the square blaring the horn in protest against the ‘illegal wars’ in 2007 (he later went on to be arrested after parking illegally outside Downing St and nearly colliding with a double decker bus!).

My parents often used to take us to see child friendly musicals and plays at the National Theatre and treat us to meals and days out and about round Covent Garden – a magical place filled with street entertainers and, when I was a child, one of the flagship Body Shop stores, a wooden toyshop like an Aladdin’s cave of treasures and The Covent Garden General Store – where I first discovered the delights of Jelly Belly jellybeans with all their fascinating flavours (Later, during my days working at Shell we used to gather at the Long Island Iced Tea Shop for cocktails if anyone had a hen do or leaving party – and there I discovered even more fascinating flavours!) I discovered Camden as a teenager and adored the series of quirky cool interconnected markets around the canal. I’ve even had one of my book group meetings in the living quarters inside the Tower of London (where one of the girl’s army boyfriends was stationed at the time).

Those are my London credentials if you will, but I have to admit it’s been years since I really enjoyed London life and I miss it. I moved out to darkest Surrey/Hampshire in 2008 and this is where I have started a family.

The hubster is born and bred Surrey though. He had a stint working for BTP out of Waterloo which, it seems to me from anecdotes, mostly consisted of grappling drunks off tube trains and picking up body parts from railway lines. It’s little wonder that he has negative feelings towards this bustling metropolis, but leaves us somewhat  at loggerheads with regards the children. I want to introduce my adorable munchkins to the joys of a city I know and love, he’s not so keen.

London has some amazing fun opportunities for children – I would love to see the wonder in their eyes at the sight of the London Eye, or the excitement at travelling on an underground train or catching a glimplse of the big pelicans in St James’ Park. The museum of transport, the museum of childhood, the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum or twiddling dials and knobs at the Science Museum.

And there are so many things I want to see and places I want to visit too – the Shard wasn’t even built when I last commuted to London.

One day soon…


J is for… Jumper! #alphabetphoto


Back at the Alphabet Photography Project (Podcast Dove) it’s week 10 already! That means we’re up to J. I have a little shot of JJ a-jumping here! We were lucky enough to chance upon a ‘family fun day’ at the sports and leisure club that my Mum used to work for and where she is now a member (pension status granted her free membership for herself, my dad and any grandchildren!).

Not only was there a teacup ride, facepainters and balloon crafters, but also several inflatables including this big one styled on TV’s ‘Total Wipeout’ (but without the water!) and everything was free!

JJ absolutely loved this, despite the big queue and it seemed relatively easy (compared to the TV show) for children but watching a grown man attempt it later on was hilarious!

North Norfolk with preschoolers Part 3

Before I begin let me gently guide you to two more brilliant travel posts which could have been (but weren’t) sponsored by the Norfolk Tourist Board (come on guys get your act together! 😉 ) North Norfolk with Preschoolers Part 1 and Part 2

After having read Lucy’s post all about her stay at The Pigs in Edgefield and perusing their website I was really keen to visit and see the place for ourselves. Knowing that it would be really child-friendly with an outdoor playzone designed by the creators of BeWilderwood, I persuaded the hubster that if we were to have one meal out all week it should be at this venue. We visited one afternoon hoping that we could get the boys an early tea but unfortunately they don’t start serving food til 6pm so we hung around for a while, checked out the play areas, had some great fun on the zipwire, tree-house-come-giant slide and climbing equipment before heading back to the holiday house with the intention of returning for lunch the following day.

Unfortunately our return trip wasn’t quite so successful. EJ really seemed to have entered the terrible twos – he was being stubborn, screamy and very, very hard work, insisting on ignoring the play areas in favour of wandering up and down the length of the pub picking up knives or breakable objects left on low tables. When the food arrived JJ decided that he didn’t like his burger. Someone spilt some lemonade at some point and we felt that our meals were OK but not £15 each worth of OK…Having said that I would still recommend this place to people with little children as this would have worked out on another day I’m sure, and the menu of Norfolk Iffits (like a local version of Tapas) was something I would have liked to have tried – in fact some Iffits and a dessert would have been preferable I guess but we weren’t prepared to stay and wait and pay for a dessert with EJ in High Maintenance mode – no fun for anybody!

We decided to keep most of the day a bit low key after cramming so much in since our arrival in the county and another NT venue was on the cards – this time Sheringham Park. As the hubster was intending to do the Park Run here on Saturday morning he wanted to check the place out so we decided on a little stroll.

EJ wanted to run everywhere and JJ was happy to have a run initially but then he wanted to be in the buggy. Unfortunately EJ wouldn’t accept this and demanded that JJ get up and continue running with him which went down about as well as a plate of raw fennel (although, bizarrely I do know someone who claims this is one of their four-year-old’s favourite foods…). Then EJ decided if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em and this was the result:

Norfolk 2 boys 1 buggy
Perhaps we should have bought that double buggy after all…

On our last day the sun finally came out and the winds dropped a bit – hurrah! We had a long think about where to go. Initially I was very keen to try the Dinosaur theme park which looked like really good fun from the leaflet, but the hubster persuaded me that it wasn’t worth going somewhere where you would pay up to £40 to enter (still cheap compared to somewhere like Legoland but with no guarantees on EJ’s interest or behaviour, not an expense we relished) and then get ripped off on food and drinks. I flicked through the basket of tourist leaflets in our holiday house and eventually alighted upon a pamphlet for Wroxham Barns which fulfilled all our criteria – no entry fee, some shops (for me), a café, petting farm and mini funfair.

When we arrived there the hubster and I realised that we’d been before about 7 years previously when we’d visited with his daughter and her cousin who were both three at the time. It really is a lovely little place. After a coffee outside the café we wandered round to look in the lovely gift shop. I was after some fudge or other treats to take back for my work colleagues and there was a sweetie shop with home made fudge so I popped in closely followed by munchkins who can smell out a jelly baby at 100 yards. EJ was immediately drawn to the pick and mix selection which was crazily positioned within toddler-reach and, in the blink of an eye proceeded to help himself much to our mortification. After several attempts to extract him from the jelly tots I gave in and shovelled half a tonne of the boys’ drug of choice (sugar) into a large paper bag and handed over the cash. One has to wonder why someone can’t invent some sweets the effect of which would mirror barbiturates rather than speed… but I digress.

Whilst the hubster took the boys off to the fairground rides I hung around the gift shop and perused some pretty clothes – I saw these gorgeous nautical theme shoes from Joules:

navy spot joules shoe

but alas they had none in my size! Then I began to feel guilty about shopping whilst the boys were off doing fun stuff and left without a purchase. They really did have loads of fun on pirate ships, a little transport themed merry-go-round and some quad bikes before we headed off into the town of Wroxham to get some lunch.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Wroxham but the whole town appears to be owned by a guy called Roy. There’s Roys of Roxham, Roy’s Toys and a couple of other Roy-branded venues as well all of which makes the place feel a bit like you’ve stumbled into some kind of frontier town where a man called Roy might appear at any moment and demand a toll for safe passage. He didn’t.
It is also known as the gateway to the Broads – Norfolk’s famous waterways. Pretty, but unfortunately we didn’t get to take a boat trip on this occasion.

In the afternoon we finally got to take advantage of our holiday home location. We stayed in a lovely little three bedroom Victorian terraced house named Forsythia Cottage, owned and run by Poppyland Cottages – a four star venue with all mod cons and the provision of a cot and a few big tubs of toys for the boys to play with as well. It is located just a stone’s throw from the sea front and there is a lovely playground just across the road. JJ changed into his swimming shorts and EJ just stripped down to nappy and t-shirt and we all piled down to the beach to make some sandcastles and have a paddle. It is a partly sandy, party stony beach which means that the walk down to the water’s edge is a bit like a run over hot coals in bare feet to get to other side! I really did wish that I’d thought to bring some jelly shoes at this point!

I think JJ could have stayed there for hours – he had so much fun jumping the waves and running up and down on the wet sand! I’m just so happy we got the chance to do this after a week of somewhat chilly days.
Chicken pox and tantrums aside, this was all in all a fab week of little adventures – a really nice little staycation!


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

North Norfolk with preschoolers – Part 2

(For part one of this mini-series – don’t miss out on chicken poxy shenanagins! – click here.)

On day two we were already suffering from that vague sensation you get when you go on a self-catering holiday entirely unprepared for mealtimes. After a bit of a verbal scuffle with the hubster I had to concede that eating out every day was not going to be an option. We decided on a trip into Norwich (“A Fine City”) which would allow us to treat the boys to a cheeky Happy Meal at the Golden Arches.

Norwich really is an interesting place, packed with history. Anyone who reads the brilliant Put Up With Rain blog will be in no doubt that Lucy’s pride in her home city is justified. Having said that, history is not something that really appeals to pre-schoolers and we had second thoughts about a trip round Norwich Castle with them, instead opting for Norwich Cathedral (which felt like less of a commitment money-wise). It was actually really fortuitous because our visit coincided with the filming of a major motion picture starring Judi Dench – Tulip Fever based on a great book by Deborah Moggach set in 17th Century Holland. The hubster and kids were decidedly underwhelmed by this (although the hubster did attempt to pimp EJ out to the film crew should they need a ‘child with the pox’ for any reason – they politely declined).

For me though, this was one of the highlights of the holiday (being on a movie set, not having my toddler pimped out)! I have been a lover of all things cinematic and film-related for as long as I can remember and used to be able to claim encyclopaedic knowledge of what was going on in the industry, devouring Empire magazine from cover to cover month in month out. Nowadays I don’t get much opportunity to take in a movie – even on the small screen, but I will be keeping an eye out for this one because I know there will be one little scene during which I was tucked away just behind the action desperately attempting to keep EJ from either yelping or charging headfirst into the limelight.

The hubster was much more taken with the twitchers camped out on the green outside – actually the Hawk and Owl Trust all set up to view and record the movements of the peregrine falcons which nest up in the turrets. They let us have a look through one of the viewfinders and they really are impressive birds.

A quick Costa latte fix, a trip to Langleys toyshop (where the boys got a coach and an ice cream van respectively – the latter of which went on to drive us to distraction with its annoying tune!) and our day was complete.

Day three we set off for JJ’s promised land – the North Norfolk Steam Railway! Honestly I don’t think I have ever experienced so many trips on steam railways since JJ was born – he absolutely loves them and it was perfect to have a little branch line in Sheringham – so close to where we were staying. We opted for a very short trip (you never know where you stand on enclosed spaces with a toddler in tow!) and journeyed to the first stop and back with a little time to spend looking around the lovely old-fashioned station at Weybourne. The friendly guard on the train told us to look out for the toilets in particular and he wasn’t kidding – genuine Crappers! The whole of the Ladies (not sure about the Gents!) was a museum piece in itself.

There was also a lovely café and toyshop on the station and a pretty little garden area with tables where I caught this butterfly shot (in between lunges at a wayward toddler who seemed to quite like the idea of diving off platform edges :-/ ).

When we arrived back at Sheringham we still had the day ahead of us so we took a stroll down the High Street with the intention of seeing the sea. I have to say that my initial impression was that, for the crowds, it could almost have been Camden or Covent Garden on Sea. However the average age was probably 70 and street entertainment was thin on the ground. You can see why this place appeals to the older generation though – it is like stepping back in time to a former decade – one in which out of town supermarkets did not exist and you would visit green grocers, butchers, bakers and ironmongers all individually. I am old enough to remember the very end of that era and it was a bit nostalgic in that respect!

We made it to the end of the road and on to the seafront but the weather wasn’t great and the munchkins were beginning to flag. A quick ice-cream (pistachio for me – delish!) a few photo shoots of the giant lobsters which seemed to abound (!) and we were en route home.

After a pit stop for an EJ nap and lunch we decided that a little afternoon trip was in order to keep the little people from mutiny. As we became members of the National Trust in April it was a no-brainer to seek out the best Norfolk had to offer (a free trip means no obligation to ‘make a day of it’ and we knew we could call it quits if tantrums or chicken poxiness got the better of any or all of us). We opted for Blickling Estate – such a stunning property – even though we didn’t go inside the building itself it was a pleasure to stroll in the lovely grounds. The boys didn’t take long to discover some little hills for rolling down. EJ became very attached to a rock on a gravelled path which he attempted to kick along like a ball (perhaps after all he was aware of World Cup fever…) and then we stumbled upon some giant lawn games (and who doesn’t love the idea of getting a pile of giant Jenga bricks collapsing on a sandaled foot?).

Coming up in Part three:

  • That doomed trip to The Pigs (a Fine pub)
  • Wroxham (who the f**k is Roy?)
  • Two boys, one buggy, in Sheringham Park
  • And finally – the sun comes out in Overstrand and we hit the beach!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

When outings go wrong! : Wimbledon Windmill

My mum grew up in the Fulham/Putney/Wimbledon area of South West London and last Sunday she suggested that we take the boys to one of her old haunts – Wimbledon Windmill on Wimbledon Common. The journey there would take in a train ride and a bus ride – ideal for my public transport loving boys!

Our first mistake was to rule out taking with us the buggy. EJ is not one for being strapped down to anything and kicks up a helluva fuss if he feels like his freedom is being in any way curtailed. That, combined with the thought of lugging the thing on and off buses and trains was enough to make us decide to leave it at home.

Everything started off fine – the boys were excited on the train and then just as excited to get up to the front of the top floor of a double decker bus (EJ practically forcing the young man sitting there already off!).

Double Decker riders!

Then, we arrived at our destination bus stop and there was a five minute walk down alongside the common to get to the windmill. JJ began to whine. EJ was flinging himself off kerbstones with gay abandon. Eventually we made it at round about 11.20 and took a turn into the tea room/cafe there which was mighty popular at that time of day/week with a lot of runners appearing to use the spot as a gathering point for coffee post run. We decided that we might as well order the munchkins some food and milkshakes as we were all a bit hungry and thirsty. Only it turned out that EJ didn’t really like his strawberry milkshake and shortly after the following picture was taken he spilled it all over the table, narrowly avoiding soaking my mum in sweet, sticky pink milk!

Milkshakes - before the spill

We waited for the food order to be called out. And waited. And waited. My Mum went in twice to chase them up – it was only a couple of toasted sandwiches, sausage, chips and beans for the kids. The kids became bored and fractious. Eventually the food arrived, the kids had one sausage each and pretty much left the rest.

At this point we hadn’t even seen the windmill and we were well aware that we were deep in the heart of EJ’s usual nap time.

By the time we had finished our food the boys were a bit beyond any further walking so we decided to just call it a day and head home! I took a couple of shots of the windmill just to prove we had actually been there, and the boys had a bit of a climb on a big old cog structure which I presume had once belonged to part of the mill’s inner workings…

Eventually we found ourselves back on the train home which perked the boys up no end. Here they are trainspotting and creating a bit of chaos and giggly mayhem on a, thankfully, fairly empty train!

So there you have it – how not to plan a day out! Next time, picnics, buggies and sensible timings will be the order of the day! I am still intrigued by the wonderful memories my mum described of playing on and exploring the Common in her childhood as I am completely unfamiliar with that area so we’ll definitely return!